The best pure hitter in the Minor Leagues should need no introduction. Rays middle infielder Wander Franco ranks No. 1 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list and has earned one of just two 80 hit grades (on the 20-80 scouting scale) we've ever bestowed on a prospect. The other went to Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Who else stands out with their ability to barrel the ball consistently? Below, we break down the best hitting prospect in each organization.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Austin Martin, SS/OF (No. 2/MLB No. 17)
Martin was MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 Draft prospect last year and went to the Blue Jays at No. 5 for a big reason -- his bat should play anywhere. The right-handed slugger was a .368 hitter over his three years at Vanderbilt, where he played against tough SEC arms. His .392 average over 65 games in 2019 was particularly impressive. Recognizing that Martin’s approach and efficient stroke could plug right into the pros, the Blue Jays sent their top 2020 pick aggressively to Double-A New Hampshire to open his first Minor League season.
Orioles: Adley Rutschman, C (No. 1/MLB No. 2)
Rutschman left Oregon State with a .352/.473/.559 line, a big reason why he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 Draft. After a slow start to his first full season, he’s been showing off his advanced approach at the plate and was on our Prospect Team of the Week for his May 10-16 work. Even when he's not locked in, he’s drawing walks (14 vs. 16 K’s) for a .413 OBP and last week, he started getting to his power with a double and a pair of homers.
Rays: Wander Franco, SS (No. 1/MLB No. 1)
As if this could be anyone else. A .334 career hitter, the switch-hitting infielder displays incredible bat speed from both sides, sprays the ball to all fields and boasts a special approach that has typically led to more walks than strikeouts. He has taken well to Triple-A at just 20 years old and shouldn’t be far from making the jump to the Majors this summer.
Red Sox: Triston Casas, 1B (No. 1/MLB No. 34)
Casas is not only one of the best power prospects in the Minors, but he's also a gifted left-handed hitter who controls the strike zone and uses the entire field. Just 21, the 2018 first-rounder from the Florida high school ranks is slashing .308/.368/.500 with three homers in 13 Double-A games.
Yankees: Josh Smith, SS (No. 14)
Smith has some of the best bat-to-ball skills in the Yankees' system and manages the strike zone well while slashing line drives to all fields. A second-round choice out of Louisiana State in 2019, he hit .324/.450/.477 in short-season ball during his debut but has yet to play this year because of a hand injury.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians: Tyler Freeman, SS (No. 2/MLB No. 82)
A 2017 supplemental second-round pick from a California high school, Freeman won the short-season New York-Penn League batting title (.352) in 2018 and has struck out in just 9 percent of his pro at-bats. His outstanding bat-to-ball skills have translated into a .348/.400/.435 line in Double-A this year.
Royals: Bobby Witt Jr., SS (No. 1/MLB No. 7)
One could make the case that Witt’s hit tool is actually his least sharp of the bunch, but that only says more about the rest of his profile than his ability to hit. The 2019 second overall pick makes a lot of hard contact to all fields that can result in eye-popping exit velocities, thanks to elite bat speed. His aggression can lead to some swing-and-miss issues, but Witt has shown an ability to adjust to advanced competition since his days at last year’s alternate training site. The bat is special and why the Royals felt comfortable pushing the 20-year-old to Double-A this quickly.
Tigers: Riley Greene, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 16)
Make that two consecutive 2020 high school picks already in Double-A. Entering his age-20 season, Greene already boasts one of the sweetest left-handed swings in the Minors with evaluators raving about its fluidity and explosiveness. Greene backed that up with the hardest-hit ball by a Tigers batter as measured by Statcast this spring with a 115.8 mph double on March 22. No Detroit slugger has beaten that during the Major League season yet either. Expect Greene to pair with the powerful Spencer Torkelson in the heart of the Motor City lineup before long.
Twins: Alex Kirilloff, OF (No. 2/MLB No. 20)
Kirilloff was just starting to heat up in the big leagues before a sprained wrist landed him on the injured list. Prior to the injury, he had a seven-game hitting streak, going 9-for-28 with three doubles and four homers over that span and was leading the team in exit velocity and hard-hit rate. That’s more in line for a guy with a .318/.366/.501 career line in the Minors. He could be back this weekend and picked up a pair of hits and a homer in his first Triple-A rehab game on Wednesday.
White Sox: Jose Rodriguez, SS/2B (No. 15)
A bargain $50,000 signing out of the Dominican Republic in 2018, Rodriguez has an aggressive approach but makes a lot of hard contact and features some deceptive strength. He's off to a good start in his full-season debut, batting .293/.359/.431 in Low-A.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels: Brandon Marsh, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 42)
He got off to a late start to his 2021 season because of a labrum issue he was still coming back from last season, but Marsh wasted no time by picking up a pair of hits in his first game back on May 13. He’s off to a .273/.448/.545 start, showing off his advanced feel for the strike zone and ability to barrel up the ball. Only injuries have held him back.
A’s: Tyler Soderstrom, C (No. 1/MLB No. 89)
While he was a high school draftee last June, the A’s thought him advanced enough as a hitter to send him to the alternate training site last summer and to big league camp this spring, and he more than held his own in both places. He’s off to a very solid .288/.393/.385 start in Low-A with a 13.1 percent walk rate. Look for the K rate (29.5 pct) to come down as he makes adjustments and then the power will start showing up.
Astros: Grae Kessinger, SS/3B (No. 14)
Grae could make the Kessingers a three-generation family of big leaguers, following his grandfather Don (a six-time All-Star) and uncle Keith. Drafted in 2019's second round after batting .405 in Southeastern Conference play at Mississippi, he features good bat control from the right side of the plate and is slashing .200/.233/.375 in Double-A.
Mariners: Jarred Kelenic, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 4)
Pay no attention to his numbers during the first week of his Major League career. He’s going to figure it out just fine once he settles in. This is, after all, a guy with a penchant for driving the ball to all fields with a very good approach at the plate, one who had a .904 OPS in his first full season, the year he made it to Double-A just after his 20th birthday and finished with a 20-20 season. He made it pretty clear he was ready for Seattle by getting off to a .370/.414/.630 start over six games in Triple-A this year.
Rangers: Josh Jung, 3B (No. 1/MLB No. 51)
Jung's polished hitting ability is his best attribute and what made him the No. 8 overall pick in 2019 out of Texas Tech. He slashed .316/.389/.443 in his pro debut (mostly in Low-A) and looked good at the Rangers' alternate training site last year, but he's currently sidelined with a stress fracture in his left foot.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Cristian Pache, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 11)
Pache took a huge step forward with his approach at the plate in 2019, drawing more walks and working to see more pitches to get in better hitters’ counts. He kept working on that in 2020, leading to his big league callup last year and a spot on the postseason roster. He’s on the shelf now with a hamstring strain, which hopefully will let him reset a little bit after a slow start in Atlanta this year, where he definitely regressed approach-wise over his first 22 games.
Marlins: José Devers, SS (No. 8)
In a farm system loaded with position prospects, the relatively unheralded Devers is the best pure hitter, making contact with ease and using his plus speed to turn grounders into hits. A cousin of Rafael Devers acquired from the Yankees in the Giancarlo Stanton trade in 2017, José made his big league debut in April and has slashed .333/.360/.458 in seven games in Double-A.
Mets: Francisco Álvarez, C (No. 1/MLB No. 38)
Catchers have a lower offensive bar than other positions because of everything else that is required of them, but Álvarez’s bat would play at every spot on the diamond. Jumping quickly stateside in 2019, the right-handed-hitting backstop produced a .312/.407/.510 line in 42 games between two short-season levels. He’s off to a hotter start at Low-A St. Lucie, where he is 15-for-33 (.455) with 10 walks and only four strikeouts in 11 games entering Thursday. Álvarez exhibits little issue with putting bat to ball and makes a lot of hard contact thanks to his plus strength. If he continues to grow his defensive game, he could be one of the Majors’ best catchers come the middle of the decade.
Nationals: Yasel Antuna, SS (No. 4)
Tommy John surgery, leg injuries and the coronavirus pandemic limited Antuna to only three games since the start of the 2019 season. The Nationals added him to the 40-man roster anyway last offseason because they believed enough in the switch-hitter’s offensive potential. Washington especially likes Antuna’s ability to keep the bat through the zone for a long time and not cut himself short on his ability to make contact. The 21-year-old is finally making up for lost time at High-A Wilmington.
Philles: Bryson Stott, SS (No. 3)
The Phillies took Stott in the middle of the first round of the 2019 Draft because of his advanced bat at a premium position, and he showed off some of his skills during his summer pro debut (.295/.391/.494), mostly in short-season ball, though he obviously couldn’t build on that in 2020. He’s handled the jump to High-A well this year and is on his way to showing his bat is going to help him move quickly, with a .286/.464/.619 start that includes four homers and nearly as many walks as strikeouts.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers: Brice Turang, SS (No. 2/MLB No. 80)
Turang certainly earns points for possession of a smooth stroke from the left-handed side -- one that primarily results in hard line drives all over the diamond. But he also deserves praise for his pitch identification skills and approach at the dish, each of which resulted in 83 walks in 129 games between two Class A affiliates in 2019. The combination of the two means Turang projects to show a plus hit tool at the top level.
Cardinals: Iván Herrera, C (No. 3/MLB No. 87)
Nobody sees more pitches than a catcher, and sometimes they use that to their advantage in their own times up at the dish. Herrera has shown an impressive approach at the plate, particularly when it comes to laying off offspeed pitches he can’t hit. That allows him to make the most of his short, right-handed swing and punish the offerings he can drive. Herrera is a career .302 hitter -- no small feat for a backstop -- and is playing at Double-A Springfield in his age-21 season.
Cubs: Yohendrick Pinango, OF (No. 13)
After signing for $400,000 out of Venezuela in 2018, Pinango topped the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League in hits (86) and ranked fourth in batting (.358) during his debut the next year. He has a smooth left-handed swing and a mature approach, which should help him recover from a .191/.255/.255 start in Low-A this season.
Pirates: Nick Gonzales, 2B (No. 2/MLB No. 33)
He’s hit wherever he’s been, including a .399/.502/.747 career line in three years at New Mexico State and a .351/.451/.630 line when he won the Cape Cod League MVP in 2019. Everyone raved about his quick hands and bat speed at the alternate training site last summer after he was the No. 7 overall pick in the Draft, and he’s off to a very strong .294/.368/.549 start, making his pro debut in High-A.
Reds: Tyler Callihan, 2B/3B (No. 8)
With Jonathan India recently graduating off the prospects list, the “best pure hitter” title now belongs to Callihan, the Reds’ third-round pick in 2019 (though they did give him second-round money to sign). The left-handed hitter’s bat has been his carrying tool all along, with some questions about what position he lands at defensively. As long as he keeps doing what he’s done so far during his full-season debut this year (.340/.389/.404, with as many walks as strikeouts), the Reds will find a spot for him in the lineup.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs: Corbin Carroll, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 37)
This one is a bit sad because Carroll recently underwent season-ending shoulder surgery, so we won’t see his pure hitting ability again until 2022. That doesn’t rule him out from this list, though. The 2019 first-rounder has a knack for making hard contact and controlling the zone, as he showed early at High-A Hillsboro where he went 10-for-23 (.435) with five extra-base hits and six walks in seven games.
Dodgers: Michael Busch, 2B (No. 3/MLB No. 88)
One of the best all-around bats in the 2019 college Draft class, Busch has an advanced approach and the ability to hit for both power and average. The first-rounder from North Carolina is batting .264/.400/.604 in Double-A while playing better at second base than scouts anticipated.
Giants: Marco Luciano, SS (No. 1/MLB No. 13)
Signed for $2.6 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2018, Luciano's most obvious attributes are his bat speed and raw power, but he has advanced hitting ability as well. Just 19, he's off to a .245/.302/.510 start with three homers in 12 games in Low-A.
Padres: CJ Abrams, SS (No. 2/MLB No. 8)
Freshly off being picked sixth overall in 2019, Abrams hit .401 over 32 games as the Arizona League MVP in his first taste of the Minors. It was a promising sign that Abrams’ solid left-handed swing and promising bat control would translate to the pros. Here’s another one: the 20-year-old has gotten off to a blazing start with Double-A San Antonio, where he is 19-for-57 (.333) with seven extra-base hits in 14 games entering Thursday. It isn’t just Abrams’ 80-grade speed that makes him an elite prospect. The hit tool could shoot him to superstardom.
Rockies: Zac Veen, OF (No. 1/MLB No. 43)
Veen shot up Draft boards as the 2020 Draft approached largely because of his feel to hit along with his considerable raw power. The lanky lefty has struggled out of the gate in Low-A ball, with a high strikeout rate only offset by a high walk rate. As someone with the chance to be a plus hitter with plus raw power, look for him to get his feet under him and adjust to pro pitching as he gathers more at-bats.